It's Mrs Darcy's Diamonds Book Launch today. Come over to Austen Variations where I'm giving away prizes - books and jewellery - in celebration!
Here's an excerpt from the novella-I hope you enjoy it!
Elizabeth’s view through the window beyond her looking glass was a scene from a picture book. Even on the greyest day in December, she thought she’d never seen anything quite to rival its beauty. Today in the sunshine, the copses to the east shimmered like veils of hazy blue gossamer, casting long shadows upon the golden hillsides. The Pemberley estate stretched endlessly before her, and there in the very middle of this rustic panorama she watched a horseman gallop into the distance. She would have recognised Fitzwilliam, had he been a dot on the horizon. He cut such a handsome and athletic figure, urging the horse on across the fields. Riding out with him was one of her greatest joys but today Mr Darcy was engaged on estate business, something she was getting used to after their wonderful honeymoon together where he’d indulged her every whim.
There was a knock at the door.
‘Come in, Rebecca.’
Without knowing she did it, a small sigh escaped Elizabeth’s lips. She knew her maid was ready to dress her hair, and after that, Lady Catherine de Bourgh would be ready to receive her.
Hurrying down the staircase, Lizzy patted her hair and smoothed down her gown, quickly checking her appearance in the glass on the landing before meeting Lady Catherine. She did want to make a good impression. Pausing to tuck a wayward curl behind her ear, she hardly recognised her reflection, she’d become such a grand lady in the few short weeks she’d been married. Her expensive clothes were elegant and stylish, and even her coiffure, styled so expertly by her new lady’s maid, seemed to lend her an air of distinction. But despite these outward embellishments, Elizabeth felt no more self-assured than when she’d first arrived at Pemberley. Not that she suffered any real crisis of confidence, she’d always had a sense of her own self-worth, but it was just that she longed to be a credit to the great man she had married. Lizzy knew she was out of her depth when it came to the task of running a great house like the one she was now mistress of, but with the help of Mrs Reynolds, the housekeeper, she was trying to learn all that she could. Knowing that Mr Darcy’s aunt was always very critical did nothing to improve her feelings, and it was with some trepidation that she rushed along the corridor. It simply would not do to be late!
When she walked into the saloon, Lady Catherine was already seated in a chair by the window, looking out over the landscape.
‘Good morning, Lady Catherine,’ Elizabeth said on entering, dropping a curtsey.
Lady Catherine continued to gaze through the window and for a moment Elizabeth wondered if she’d been heard. Fitzwilliam’s aunt had assumed a regal attitude and now turned so imperiously to look down her long nose as if she’d been intruded upon that Lizzy felt quite intimidated, until she realised that the old lady was doing her very best to make her feel uncomfortable in her own home.
‘Sit down,’ Lady Catherine barked, gesturing to the seat opposite.
Undaunted, Elizabeth’s courage rose and sitting down, she took a deep breath to steady her nerves, choosing to ignore the old lady’s rude manner. ‘We are so delighted that you accepted our invitation and to see you here at Pemberley. We were worried that you might not be able to attend the ball after you wrote about your late illness - I do hope you are very much recovered.’
‘Pemberley has been my home for more years than you’ve been alive, madam, and you need not think because you now consider yourself châtelaine that your influence holds any sway. I have never been subject to an invitation here in my life before - I shudder to imagine what my dear sister would have thought at such impertinence.’
‘Mr Darcy was very particular with the arrangements, Lady Catherine. We wish you a most happy visit … I hope you’ve found everything to your satisfaction,’ Lizzy continued, aware that her patience was being tried beyond her limit.
‘As for my rooms, Reynolds has been so good as to move me to Lady Anne’s apartments.’
Elizabeth stared at the implacable woman before her. She could not imagine a worse beginning but she was determined not to let Lady Catherine get the better of her. ‘Forgive me, your ladyship, but we were led to understand that your preference was for the west wing, and that you did not usually wish to reside in your sister’s chambers because of the morning sun on that side of the house. As for the invitation, Mr Darcy considered it would be most fitting in light of the fact that we are newly married and the ball is a celebration of our union. It will be the first of many that he wishes to hold, and we hope you will bless us with your presence at every one.’
As she said the words, looking with steely determination into Lady Catherine’s eyes, Lizzy found herself crossing the fingers that were laced in her lap. She noted with some pleasure that Fitzwilliam’s formidable aunt looked at a loss for words, but knew it was only a matter of time before another barbed comment would be aimed in her direction.
‘A seasonal ball is held annually at Pemberley - your marriage and its timing is a mere coincidence. One can only hope that you have taken Reynolds’ advice in every matter. Of course, in my sister’s day the balls were unsurpassed in the country. How this great house has fallen in the wake of her demise - I fear for its future, I will not pretend.’
‘Lady Catherine, I assure you that I will do my very best to fulfil the role that is my privilege to have been bestowed upon me by my dear husband. I am honoured to bear the name of Darcy and hope to do my husband proud.’
Lizzy felt Lady Catherine’s eyes upon her once more and was subject to such scrutiny that she felt herself redden and shift uncomfortably in her chair. The lady wore a frown, her eyes narrowing as she stared at Elizabeth’s fingers laced in her lap.
‘Give me your hand, at once. I believe that ring belongs to my sister!’
Instinctively, Lizzy covered the finger wearing her new diamond with the fingers of her right hand.
‘Put out your hand, this instant, and let me see. There has been a grave oversight, I am certain. This jewel, which you have no right to wear, is one of a suite that was given to my sister on her marriage. They were promised to my daughter on her marriage and until that day were to remain in the vault. How on earth did you come by it?’
Elizabeth kept her hands in her lap, and tried to remain calm. ‘I think you must be mistaken, Lady Catherine. Mr Darcy bestowed this ring upon me himself. As they belong to a suite of jewels, which he refers to as the Darcy diamonds, passed down by the heir to every Darcy spouse, I fail to understand you.’
‘You fail to understand me?’ The lady was shaking now, her earrings dangling from fleshy lobes tinkled like miniature chandeliers.
She really didn’t want to have an altercation with Darcy’s aunt, but she was being tried to her very limit. Lizzy opened her mouth to speak again, but a knock at the door and the entrance of Mrs Reynolds prevented her from answering.
‘What is it, Reynolds?’ demanded Lady Catherine crossly, before Lizzy had a chance to speak.
‘I am very sorry to intrude, your ladyship, but I have a message for Mrs Darcy. It’s from the home farm, madam - it’s urgent, I’m afraid. Mrs Fretwell said if you could spare the time, that she’d be ever so grateful. He’s near the end, you see, and she says he’s been calling for you.’
‘I’ll come straight away, Mrs Reynolds. Be so good as to tell Saxton to get the carriage ready - I’ll be there as soon as I can.’
‘Where are you going? I demand an explanation!’
Elizabeth had no intention of telling Lady Catherine where she was bound, and as she observed the old woman’s thunderous countenance, her jowls wobbling in indignation, she attempted to placate her. ‘There is no time, Lady Catherine. Forgive me, but I have to go!’